Solo Woman Travel in India
Train Travel Safety Tips and Advisories
|Solo woman train
“How in the world did I get here?” It
was 2 a.m. I was in a mosquito-filled police station and
jail in Agra, India, home of the world’s most beautiful
and famous monument to love. I had walked there, willingly,
with two men in khaki uniforms and berets.
In India, train travel is the way to
go. It’s an efficient way to visit all corners of
the sub-continent and certainly economical. On this particular
night I had splurged on second class for my shortest train
ride in India yet (four hours), yet it had cost no more
than $4 (I paid $12 for a 32-hour ticket that had taken
me from the northeast corner in Kolkata to the southern
state of Goa.)
So far I had wracked up a total of
over 60 hours on the Indian Railways as a solo female traveler
without much incident. This particular night, despite my
usual alertness and precaution, I found myself in a second
class berth on an uncrowded train, alone with a middle-aged
businessman from a small village near Agra.
It is usual for the passengers on trains
in India to be curious about foreign travelers—staring,
whispering, talking loudly, are quite common. Those who
are comfortable with their English are likely straight out
ask how and why a single woman should be traveling alone
in India. Wonderful conversations and invitations can develop
over the course of a long train ride in this way. But in
India females are usually accompanied by a father or son,
and female travelers often raise eyebrows and questions.
This night, as usual, the passenger
across from me, the businessman, was curious as to my origins
and purposes. He explained his business to me and I explained
my solo travel while we ate the dahl, roti, and yogurt served
on the train. I expressed to him an anxiety about not knowing
when my stop would be, since they did not announce the stations,
and he congenially offered to alert me when the time came,
should I nod off to sleep. Disarmed by our nice conversation,
my bags all chained up and locked as is highly recommended,
and full of food, I drifted off.
I awoke to the sense of hands on my
blouse. Frightened and in denial, I slapped him away and
slid to the opposite end of the berth to close my eyes tight
in pretend sleep while I thought of what to do. Within minutes
his hands landed on my upper thigh, and this time I leapt
up from the berth and created a commotion.
When I finally got off the train at
1 a.m., it took me 45 minutes to get the stationmaster to
take me seriously enough to file a complaint and another
15 minutes of haggling with him to send a policeman to escort
me to the station. The final motivation for him to do so
was a call I placed to the U.S. embassy in New Delhi.
Tips and Advisories
I would never recommend that
females stop exploring India by train, and I would spend
1,000 more hours on them to take in such a bewildering
and beautiful country. The following tips and advisories
are for female travelers especially, but also for the
male solo traveler, to ensure healthy and incident-free
travel aboard the Indian railways:
many other destinations, in India if you are a solo traveler
you will often be the only Westerner on a train.
for the upper berth (it will say “UB” on
your ticket stub) when buying your ticket—it has
a far greater degree of privacy and you can stretch out
any time, even in the middle of the day.
the lower berth or middle berth; you will not be able
to stretch out until everyone decides to go to sleep.
all tickets as far in advance as possible. It is a good
idea to purchase a few legs of your journey all at once
while you are at one major station so you are assured
a seat on the date that you want.
not make prolonged eye contact with any males; it can
be seen as a sexual invitation.
you will be asked for your sex at the ticket office,
this will not generally mean that you will share your
berth with other females.
and ride with any bags that fit right on your berth—use
them as footrest and pillows. All travel documents should
be in contact with your body at all times.
all the passengers around you after the train leaves
the station. Do not shy away from pleasant conversation
because you are afraid for your safety, but do not feel
a false sense of ease because you feel like you know
not plan to change your clothes while on the train. An
ankle-length cotton skirt, dark colored t-shirt with
sleeves, and a long cotton scarf is ideal.
all hotel information at your intended destination before
boarding your train, especially if you will be arriving
after 5 p.m.
not get off the train to stretch, even at prolonged stops
at major stations. Stay within eye contact of your berth
at all times.
you feel uncomfortable in any situation on a train, do
not hesitate to change your seat immediately, with or
without first asking the conductor. If you sense trouble,
move first, ask later.
you find yourself the victim of a crime, report the situation
to the conductor and request to speak to a police officer.
Gather the names and addresses of any witnesses.
you are the victim of a sexual assault in India, report
it to the authorities immediately and don’t give
up or be surprised if the men in charge to not take you
seriously. Place a call to the nearest embassy of your
country of origin as soon as you can, and don’t
be shy about telling the authorities that you are doing
so; it gets them to act. You will be asked by the police
to write a full report of the incident and, if possible,
identify the perpetrator at the station. In my case,
this took up the entire morning of my day in Agra—a
price I was happy to pay.
shy away from independent female travel—just be
For complete timetables, names
of trains, and planning ahead, visit www.seat61.com/India.htm.